On Thursday, Derbyshire Police tweeted a 90-second aerial video of two people walking their dog in the Peak District’s Curbar Edge national park days after the UK issued a coronavirus lockdown.
“Despite posts yesterday highlighting issues of people still visiting the #PeakDistrict despite government guidance, the message is still not getting through,” the tweet read. “Travelling to remote areas of the #PeakDistrict for your exercise is not essential travel.”
Despite posts yesterday highlighting issues of people still visiting the #PeakDistrict despite government guidance, the message is still not getting through. @DerPolDroneUnit have been out at beauty spots across the county, and this footage was captured at #CurbarEdge last night. pic.twitter.com/soxWvMl0ls
— Derbyshire Police (@DerbysPolice) March 26, 2020
However, the Guardian checked with the British government and found “the guidelines did not prohibit driving somewhere for exercise or dog walking.”
In an appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today, Derbyshire Police Superintendent Steve Pont defended the tweet: “We wanted to reinforce the message of stay home and a number of people aren’t staying home, they’re finding excuses or loopholes – and we just wanted to illustrate that this is the wrong thing to do.”
Former British justice secretary David Gauke took the police force to task on Twitter, calling the decision “badly misjudged.”
“People should maintain social distancing, which is what these people are doing,” Gauke tweeted. “We need to maintain public support for fundamental behavior change which requires the authorities to focus on genuinely bad behavior.”
“The point is that the government legislation said if you go out to take exercise, you should make your time away from home as short as possible, it didn’t say as short as possible unless you want to go for a drive in the Peak District,” Pont said.
British civil liberties group Big Brother Watch called the video “sinister” and “counter-productive.”
“The new regulations in place as of yesterday do not prohibit driving to a place for the purpose of exercise,” a group spokesperson said in a media statement.
“We understand that people will have differing views about this post, however, we will not be apologetic for using any legal and appropriate methods to keep people safe,” a Derbyshire police statement noted.
French officials have been using drones to track people in public after the nation went on lockdown. Unlike the Derbyshire incident, the drones are deployed with regard to a specific law, “as a tool to remind people of the restrictions on movements currently in place,” as previously reported in DroneLife.
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